Lismore City News
Saturday, 2 December 2023

Lismore councillor Big Rob censured over Code of Conduct breaches

Cathy Adams
Updated September 20 2022 - 12:01pm, first published September 16 2022 - 2:30pm
Lismore councillor Big Rob was formally reprimanded by council after an investigation found he breached the council's Code of Conduct. Picture supplied.
Lismore councillor Big Rob was formally reprimanded by council after an investigation found he breached the council's Code of Conduct. Picture supplied.

Lismore councillor Big Rob has been formally censured for an array of Code of Conduct breaches that investigators found "constitutes harassment and bullying".

Cr Rob refused to take part in the investigation process and has described the censure as "fake news".

While the censure could be seen as a rap over the knuckles - it's a formal verbal reprimand by the council - continued breaches of the Code of Conduct by a councillor could see them ousted from civic office.

An investigation report, obtained by the Lismore City News, said the investigation looked into eight complaints about Cr Rob's conduct, and focused on four posts (one about transgenders and three about community members) made or permitted by councillor Big Rob on Facebook in March and May 2022.

The report said on four separate occasions Cr Rob breached sections of a clause in the Local Government Act 1993 relating to general conduct of councillors, as well as clauses relating to harassment and discrimination, and bullying.

The investigator said: "I was satisfied, based on the evidence, (which included the complaints and various Facebook posts) that councillor Big Rob's conduct in the circumstances was conduct likely to bring council into disrepute, was contrary to statutory requirements, was improper and unethical, was an abuse of power, comprises intimidation and/or verbal abuse and constitutes harassment and bullying".

At Tuesday night's Lismore council meeting, councillors resolved to censure Cr Rob on the recommendation of the investigation into complaints about his conduct, dated July 15.

This means he was formally reprimanded for not abiding by rules about how a councillor should conduct themselves as an elected representative.

Cr Rob was contacted for a comment on being censured, and gave the following response: "Fake news, no comment".

But a post on the Unofficial: Big Rob Facebook site criticised the investigation.

In March, a post on the site said: "For the record, I do not post in my capacity as a councillor, and the exchange did not occur on a council site, so there is no code of conduct breach".

After Cr Rob was censured, a post to the same Facebook site said: "I no longer have a private life".

"This council has decided that whatever I do is subject to the code of conduct process. What they fail to realise is that it now also extends to their private lives."

Another post on the same site says: "Massive cost, and it is still increasing. The matters are already with the Ombudsman and will be returned to the OLG. If there is a legal option, that will also follow".

The investigation report said Cr Rob chose not to engage in the investigation process.

"Unfortunately, councillor Big Rob elected not to make any submission in writing or orally in response to the allegations, nor was he open to speaking with me or resolving the matter by alternative and appropriate strategies," the investigator stated.

The Office of Local Government says a councillor may seek to avoid public censure for breaches of the code of conduct by voluntarily agreeing to undergo training or counselling, to apologise for their conduct or to give undertakings not to repeat their conduct before the investigator finalises their report to the council.

A spokesperson for the Office of Local Government said the censure resolution is action by council to address a councillor's Code of Conduct breach. It operates to make the councillor publicly accountable to the community for their conduct.

"If the council determines there are subsequent breaches of the Code of Conduct by the councillor, demonstrating a pattern of behaviour, the matter may be referred to the Office of Local Government.

"This could result in more severe penalties such as suspension from civic office, suspension of their entitlement to receive their fee and ultimately, disqualification from holding civic office in a council.

"The Office of Local Government and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal apply these penalties."

Cathy Adams

Cathy Adams